It felt good to see the Los Angeles Clippers grind back-to-back wins out, even if it was against a rebuilding team that they’d expect to beat in the Houston Rockets. It wasn’t so much the performances or the scores that mattered in this one. All that mattered was the result when the final buzzer sounded and seeing some signs of encouragement throughout the two games.
It wasn’t all pretty, but the fact that the squad managed to find more open looks, minimize the turnovers and got a huge display from Paul George were all the green shoots of recovery needed to snap a four-game losing streak. The forms of Reggie Jackson and Norman Powell will still be cause for some concern, but both have had at least one big performance to hang their hats on so far, so hopefully they can find some muscle memory from that as the campaign continues.
However, if there was only one player that the fans could ask to be on top of his game, and with Kawhi Leonard still sitting on the sidelines, it would be PG13. The statline through two games speaks for itself, averaging 31.5 points on roughly 54 percent from the field and 44 percent from deep. He was really doing it all on both ends of the court, particularly in the first game where he had 9 rebounds, 8 assists, 6 steals and 2 blocks.
It’s further reassurance that, even without Leonard, the Clippers have a guy they can rely on to go out and drag the team to a win. The performances of Jackson and Powell, as well as a slow shooting night from Marcus Morris Sr., only further increased the need for a big display from George and he duly delivered.
It comes as the conversation continues around whether the team is built to make a push for the postseason without their number one option. While the people asking those questions seem to have short-term memories — this team finished in the playoff picture without Kawhi last season, they only failed in the play-in because of further ill health — it’s nice to see a reminder being sent out about the ability of their usual number two.
It’s little wonder that Tyronn Lue was so adamant that George needs to treat it like he is number one again this season. The Clippers’ head coach said:
“I had a talk with PG. He’s a great player, and so you got to be aggressive and do what you do. You can’t take a backseat. You got to be aggressive.”
Paul George on his preseason conversation with Ty Lue. Lue said earlier that he’d told PG to stay aggressive while Kawhi works his way back to full strength. pic.twitter.com/SsjFIsXGpo— Andrew Greif (@AndrewGreif) October 23, 2022
Lue is right, of course. While the sentiment of PG acknowledging that he defers to Kawhi and there are no egos attached to that is all well and good, when Kawhi is struggling either with health off the court or having an off-night when he’s on the court, they’ll need him to put the team on his back and take control of the game. That’s the benefit of having a “one-and-one” or a “1a-and-1b”, even if the man himself dismissed that label earlier in the campaign.
Hopefully George can continue to be aggressive and set the example for his teammates to follow, because the Clippers are gonna need more big performances to get out of their early season hole.